This article originally appeared in issue #92 (April 2001) of COMMUNIQUE, the quarterly newsletter of the American UFO fan club SHADO-USECC
An American UFO Fan Goes to "Century 21"
by Marc Martin
On the weekend of October 7-8th 2000, the Gerry Anderson fan club "Fanderson" held a convention called "Century 21". Pre-convention publicity made it look like this was going to be a very impressive event - something that every Gerry Anderson fan would want to attend if they could. And for me - primarily a fan of "UFO" - it looked particularly attractive, as there were a large number of announced guests who were involved with UFO:
- Gerry Anderson (producer, co-creator)
- Ed Bishop (actor, Cmdr. Ed Straker)
- Gabrielle Drake (actress, Lt. Gay Ellis)
- Peter Gordeno (actor, Capt. Peter Carlin)
- Harry Baird (actor, Lt. Mark Bradley)
- David Lane (director of 8 UFO episodes)
- Ken Turner (director of 6 UFO episodes)
However, there was one big problem - I live on the west coast of the United States, and the convention was in Allesley village near Birmingham England! With the cost of the flight to England, the huge time difference, and the missed time at work, there was just no way that I was going to this convention. Especially considering that I've been disappointed by every science fiction convention I've ever attended - why spend so much money and trouble on something I might not even enjoy?
However, a rather amazing thing happened about a month before the convention - at work I was notified that I was going on a 2 week business trip to the Ukraine beginning the day after this convention ended! This changed everything - since I was already going to be traveling half way around the world with my company paying the bill, it seemed like I would be crazy not to try and arrange a stop at the convention on the way there. Unfortunately, there were no flights that could get me to the Ukraine at the right time and be at the convention for the entire weekend, so as a compromise I settled on attending the convention all day Saturday and on Sunday morning. This had me missing Sunday afternoon & evening, but it was certainly better than nothing!
In the weeks prior to the convention, some changes were made to the guest list. David Lane canceled, but Alan Perry was added (director of 5 UFO episodes), as was Dolores Mantez (actress, Lt. Nina Barry) & Mike Trim (vehicle designer).
As the convention approached, I kept fearing that my business trip would be delayed or canceled, but luckily it wasn't. So I left my house Thursday at noon, and arrived at my hotel in Allesley village Friday at noon - that's 16 hours of travel plus an 8 hour change in time zones! The days at the convention went by like a blur - I had an absolutely wonderful time, but there was just too much going on and I kept having to make choices between doing one thing or another when I would have loved to do both! In the end, the convention went far beyond my expectations, and I dare say that it would have been worth it even if I didn't have a business trip to cover most of the airfare!
The convention was held in the Allesley Hotel, and was spread out over several rooms on the first 2 floors:
- a huge main hall for announcements, guest panels, and big-screen video presentations. This was also used for a costume dance on Saturday night
- a large exhibition room, which contained a huge number of original & replica models, puppets, costumes, pre-production artwork, etc.
- a small dealers room, with vendors selling mostly Gerry Anderson related items
- a tiny video room, which had a small television continuously showing episodes of Gerry Anderson series
- outside of the main hall was an area for registrations, autograph sessions, and had a bar which was open during the Saturday night dance
- fans & guests also hung out in the hotel lobby, the hotel cafeteria, the hotel bar, and a few pubs which were a short walking distance from the hotel.
I hear that there were more than 300 people at this convention, and certainly the main hall was packed full of people during the more popular events. To me, it seemed like there were at least 10 people who had traveled from America.
At the beginning of the convention everyone received a convention booklet, a name tag, and a planned schedule of events. The convention booklet was very impressive, featuring color photos of the guests (handy for the autograph session) plus several interviews from past issues of the club's "FAB" magazine. And as a pleasant surprise, it also featured a brand new interview with Harry Baird - UFO's Lt. Mark Bradley!
Since I wasn't at the convention for the entire weekend plus there was no way to see & do everything, this will not be a comprehensive "Century 21" convention report. However, I will report on several things which I remembered after the convention ended - Ed Bishop & Gabrielle Drake, the fans, additional guests, the exhibition room, the dealers room, and the video room.
Ed Bishop & Gabrielle Drake
Although there were many guest cancellations, Ed Bishop and Gabrielle Drake did indeed make it to the convention. Even though I'd never met either of them before, Ed was the same charming man that I've always heard about, and Gabrielle Drake was also absolutely lovely to everyone. And many of us were stunned at how great she looks even today!
I first saw Ed Bishop in - of all places - the hotel cafeteria, where he was catching up with UFO director Ken Turner during Saturday's lunch hour. This was actually quite amusing, because I had just met Lorraine Meyer (also from the USA) and her husband Charlie the night before, and when Ed walked into the cafeteria, he sat down at their table. The amusing part was that Lorraine was absolutely speechless, and refused to leave the table for as long as Ed was there!
I left the cafeteria for a prearranged meeting with our Internet UFO discussion group (SHADO@egroups.com), and when I returned to the cafeteria, I saw that Gabrielle Drake was also now sitting at Lorraine's table, as was UFO director Alan Perry! I was informed by Lorraine & Charlie that while I was gone, Ed Bishop had mentioned that he wanted to meet me, so I briefly interrupted his conversation with Gabrielle to introduce myself, and he said he really wanted to chat later, and continued to catch up with Gabrielle. Although I didn't spend much time in the cafeteria while Ed & Gabrielle were there, in retrospect I think Lorraine had the right idea!
Shortly afterwards, there was a "guest panel" (interview) with Ed and Gabrielle in the main hall, which lasted about an hour. Several folks videotaped this, and Lorraine volunteered to make a transcription (see elsewhere in this issue for this).
Following this interview was supposed to be a showing of the UFO episode IDENTIFIED, with Ed, Gabrielle, and Peter Gordeno providing commentary while it was showing. Unfortunately, things were running behind schedule and Gabrielle had to leave at a certain time, so this event was delayed and they instead had an autograph session featuring all of the day's guests. The line for autographs went around the room, down the stairs, and who knows where it ended! I decided not to stand in this long line, which in retrospect I consider to have been a mistake.
Gabrielle left the convention after the autograph session, and the episode commentary was rescheduled for Sunday afternoon (which means I missed it!) with Ed and Peter.
That evening I had dinner at a nearby pub, and when I came back to the hotel, Paolo Malaguti said "Marc! Ed Bishop is looking for you!". I started looking around and found Ed in the hotel lobby, where again Ed expressed a desire to chat but again didn't have time at that moment.
Later that evening, I finally got a chance to chat with Ed at the bar during the costume dance. Ed thanked me for the work I had done on my UFO website, and even noted that he's used my "Cast Information" page to remember details of films he'd appeared in long ago!
Sunday morning, I only had a few hours at the convention before I had to catch a plane for my business trip. Fortunately, I ran into Ed in the hotel lobby, so I got a chance to say goodbye.
Prior to the convention, I expected that the biggest highlights for me would be the guests, the original props, and the dealers room. However, during the convention it became clear that I had underestimated what turned out to be one of the biggest highlights of all - meeting & chatting with other fans!
I've been a longtime fan of UFO & Space:1999, and have read most of the various Gerry Anderson fan publications. As a result, I'm familiar with lots of names involved with Gerry Anderson fandom, although I've never actually met any of them. Also with the Internet, there's a newer group of fans who I've come to know via the various Gerry Anderson mailing lists and private e-mails. But again, I've never actually met any of these people!
Well, this convention certainly changed that. I was simply amazed at the number of people at this convention who I'd previously only read articles by or exchanged e-mails with. I guess it never really occurred to me that so many people I knew of would attend this convention, especially since not all of them lived in England! And I suppose that many of them were equally as surprised (if not more so!) to see me there. So for me, some of the best parts of the convention was spent chatting with other fans.
Also, I quite enjoyed it when I was talking to someone, and then they'd suddenly realize that I maintained the UFO website "ufoseries.com", and would then say things like "I visit that site every day!" or "I'm not worthy!" (okay, so that was an extreme case). I'm used to receiving positive feedback via e-mails, but when it's in person it leaves a much stronger impression!
While I was at the convention, I saw the following guests: Gerry Anderson, Ed Bishop, Gabrielle Drake, Peter Gordeno, Shane Rimmer, David Graham, Zenia Merton, Ken Turner, Alan Perry, and Derek Meddings' two sons. The Saturday autograph session was attended by Gerry, Ed, Gabrielle, Peter, Zenia, Ken, and Alan.
Gerry Anderson was interviewed in the main hall. A 5-minute Captain Scarlet demonstration film using computer graphics and the voice of Ed Bishop was shown twice, and got an excellent response. Gerry announced that progress was being made on making a Captain Scarlet film plus a TV series, but also mentioned that all projects could fall through at any moment. He also talked a lot about the relaunch of THUNDERBIRDS. Outside of the guest panel, Gerry could be seen elsewhere in the hotel giving interviews to various people, complete with film cameras & microphones.
Peter Gordeno arrived too late on Saturday to participate in the guest panel along with Ed Bishop & Gabrielle Drake. However, he did provide commentary on the UFO episode IDENTIFIED with Ed on Sunday after I'd already left. During the Saturday night dance, the DJ's had some fun playing some old Peter Gordeno songs (besides being an actor, he was also a singer & dancer), and near the end of the dance Peter took over the dance floor with his wife, which was quite a magical moment.
Shane Rimmer (Seagull X-Ray co-pilot in IDENTIFIED, Thunderbirds voice artist) was somewhat of a surprise guest, and he did a guest panel with David Graham (the voice of Parker in Thunderbirds).
Zenia Merton (Sandra in Space:1999) seemed like she was there longer than any of the other guests, and it also seemed like she never took off her sunglasses! She gave commentary on the Space:1999 episode THE FULL CIRCLE.
Directors Ken Turner & Alan Perry (directors for several Anderson series, including UFO) arrived on Saturday morning, and spent a lot of the day chatting in the cafeteria. On Sunday morning they had a guest panel. Most of this was about their work on the supermarionation series, but near the end they discussed UFO.
Alan Perry told a story about Ed Bishop actually hitting Mike Billington on KILL STRAKER instead of faking it. When asked about the episode CLOSE UP (which he directed), he said he thought the script should have been thrown in the trash!
Ken Turner told a story about MINDBENDER which I'd never heard before. Basically, he thought the script was weak, and the whole moonrock thing was so obvious that the story was over in the first 5 minutes. So, while filming he deviated from the script to do what he thought would improve the episode, and added all of the hallucination sequences. While shooting the (unscripted) gunfight scene, they were outside of Sylvia Anderson's office, and Sylvia stormed outside and complained "Why is Ed in a cowboy costume?", etc. Apparently he angered the producers so much that he was fired, but then during the editing process people began to see that he had actually improved on the script, and was rehired.
At the end of the Ken Turner & Alan Perry guest panel, they invited Derek Meddings' sons onstage, who discussed their fathers work from their perspective while growing up. They brought in a lot of Derek's original artwork and were showing it in front of the audience, and I was quite frustrated that I had to leave for the airport at that very minute and didn't have time to take proper photos of all of the UFO pre-production artwork!
There were many additional guests who were scheduled to appear at this convention, and I was rather surprised at how many cancellations there were. However, I guess the convention organizers must have expected this, because I don't think they would have had room in their schedules if any more guests had shown up!
On Sunday morning, Fanderson chairman Chris Bentley spent some time going over the reasons for each cancellation, which seemed mostly due to conflicts with professional commitments, much-needed vacations, or health problems. Both Harry Baird & Dolorez Mantez didn't come due to health problems, and I can't really remember why David Lane & Mike Trim couldn't make it, but I think it was due to professional commitments or much needed vacations.
The Exhibition Room
Certainly one of the most impressive parts of the convention was the exhibition room. This was a large conference room which had been filled with models, costumes, props, and pre-production artwork from almost every Gerry Anderson production. And the amazing thing was that most of these items were the original items which appeared in the series!
The most prominent part of the UFO display was a round table which featured the original large Sky One model, an original large Interceptor model, an original small Interceptor model, an original Alien helmet, 3 replica SHADO Mobiles, a replica lunar module, and a replica UFO.
Nearby this table was a Moonbase girl's silver uniform plus wig and boots, which were mostly replicas but the lightweight silver cloth portion of it was original. Next to this was an original Alec Freeman brown jumpsuit, and a display of Derek Meddings/Mike Trim pre-production artwork for several Anderson series - from UFO there was SID, Moonbase, the SHADO mobile, and the Moon Mobile.
Across the room were some original pre-production drawings by Keith Wilson & Bob Bell - the Interceptor pilot uniform, the Alien costume, and the SHADO HQ control room for the canceled 2nd season of UFO. And I'm sure that after I had to leave the convention they added the additional Derek Meddings' artwork that his sons had brought.
And the rest of the Exhibition Room? There was a very nice Stingray & Thunderbirds display, with lots of original puppets. There was a large Space:1999 main mission wall panel (replica) & desk (original), plus several original Space:1999 costumes.
There was a huge display of original puppets from Captain Scarlet, Joe 90, and Secret Service. Along with these was a replica Spectrum car & Angel aircraft.
There was a display of original Terrahawks stuff, but I don't know anything about this series. There was also a display of original items from Space Precinct, including a huge model of the space station where Brogan's family lived.
There was an amazing collection of original models from Space:1999, including lots of Eagles & Hawks. Along with this was some Space:1999 pre-production art.
There were also some very nice replicas of the various Thunderbirds craft.
The only problem I had with the exhibition room was that the items were not properly labeled, so you often had no idea which items were original, and which were replicas. And in fact, most of this type of information I have provided in this article was obtained after the convention was over.
The Fanderson Sales table was in a corner of the exhibition room. Here, you could buy back issues of many issues of FAB magazine and lots of items offered in Fanderson Sales' merchandise brochure, including some new 8 x 10" photos of Lt. Ellis & Captain Carlin - which I of course bought!
The Fanderson Sales table had a boombox playing UFO soundtrack music. I don't think this was the unofficial UFO soundtrack CD-R that many people have, but instead was from Fanderson's own sources. I asked them "Is this the unavailable UFO soundtrack?", which was my way of stating that they owned UFO soundtrack music but weren't offering it for sale to anyone, and they confirmed thatů unfortunately.
One original prop that was at the convention but not in the exhibition room was the yellow model T car from SECRET SERVICE, which also appeared in the UFO episodes IDENTIFIED and A QUESTION OF PRIORITIES. This was on display in the hotel lobby, although I'm still not sure how they fit it through the entrance doors!
The Dealers Room
Prior to the convention, one of the things I was most looking forward to was the dealers room. I was really hoping to find some rare (and expensive) goodie that I just had to have. But alas, with such high expectations, it should be no surprise that the dealers room was a bit of a letdown for me, and I ended up only buying some UFO photos.
The dealers room was in a smallish room featuring 7 dealers. Here's what I remember about each:
- First there was a table selling lots of old Thunderbirds magazines, photos, etc.
- Next to this there was a table which mostly had Captain Scarlet & Thunderbirds books & magazines, but had two impressive (not-for sale?) display models of Skydiver and all of the Captain Scarlet characters.
- Next to this was TNT Hobbies, which was selling a variety of nifty Gerry Anderson dioramas. They had all sorts of cool things, including a Sky One coming out of the ocean (cleverly being held up by the smoke trails), and a UFO crashed in the forest. They also had some rare UFO publicity photos from the owner's personal collection, which I bought for 3 pounds each.
- In the back of the room was a large table for Comet Miniatures, which is well-known in Anderson fandom for selling expensive models. However, their table mostly had new Thunderbirds items.
- The next table had a lot of toys, books, and magazines, and had the 2 UFO novelizations.
- The next table was a UFO collector's dream, and had all sorts of items that you'd never expect to see for sale - the Japanese laserdiscs, Italian comics, 8mm film reels, Japanese guidebooks, puzzles, even some items that I'd never even heard of! The only downside was that the asking prices were quite high. I talked to the person at the table, and he said that he was selling items from the collection of Tony Read, who some people will recall as being the current owner of the full-size Foster car. Although there was lots of cool stuff here, I already owned most everything that I was interested in, and ended up buying a few more rare UFO photos - at 10 pounds each!
- The final table had a huge collection of trading cards & vintage comics. They also had the old UFO "TV Action/Countdown" and TV21 comics.
So even though I didn't find anything that really excited me, this was still by far the best dealers room I'd ever seen!
The Video Room
Watching videos during the convention was a low priority for me, and I ended up watching nothing in the video room. It seemed that this was a low priority with the convention planners and other attendees as well, as the room & TV were both small, and it never seemed crowded. The one notable thing about the room was that someone did a marvelous lifesize painting on a huge roll of cloth of Straker's underground office, which took up the entire back wall and gave an eerie effect of actually being there.
But don't think that videos in general were unpopular - Fanderson did shown several rare & interesting videos throughout the convention, but these were all shown in the main hall. However, I still considered watching videos to be my lowest priority, so I missed most of these.
Certainly this convention went far beyond my wildest expectations, and I had a wonderful time. I only wish I could have found travel arrangements which would have allowed me to stay for the entire convention.
And while I never previously took seriously the idea of traveling all the way to England for a Fanderson convention, I'm certainly going to take it seriously from now on!